By Vikram Nijhawan, Senior Arts and Culture Editor
April may be the cruellest month, according to T.S. Eliot, but in the eyes of Neil Gaiman, October is the most alluring – for all the obvious reasons and others.
For the acclaimed fantasy author who scarred an entire generation with his children’s novella Coraline, October is a red-bearded, cider-sipping storyteller, seated atop a wooden stump around a campfire alongside the other months of the year. The story in which he appears, “October in the Chair”, begins much like the month that bears his name – warm and autumnal – before tapering down into something unsettling, as he relays the tale of a neglected boy who runs away from home, whose spirit may continue to linger in the dark forest where the months meet twelve times a year.
For Gaiman, October is also the month when thirsty creatures called Click-Clacks emerge from the shadows to turn humans into ‘rattle bags, husks they hang up in their domestic lairs. In Gaiman’s world, October is the month when nightmares materialize, and macabre sensibilities morph reality. In Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of his comic book series The Sandman, he shows how “24 Hours” can stretch by at a horrifying, sadistic, screeching pace.
But October doesn’t always have to be sinister for Gaiman. A child can grow up in a house that gets invaded by aliens (“Orange”) or come of age in the friendliest cemetery imaginable (The Graveyard Book), or experience a coming-of-age milestone within a house invaded by aliens (“How to Talk to Girls at Parties”). This is the time of year when forgotten gods and monsters of the past resurface, from prehistoric Black Dogs and Egyptian cats to djinn housed within recently unearthed lamps.
An author as prolific as Neil Gaiman has stories fit for every season, but October is when he is truly in his element. He commands the attention of his company seated around a campfire, manipulating the grains of narrative as if sketching tales in the sand. Gaiman’s works pass one of the most important litmus tests for great writing: they evoke bone-deep reactions in the reader, like the spider god Anansi crawling underneath your skin, spinning a visceral story with his metaphysical webs. For Gaiman, October is when something strange is lurking around the corner, and whether it turns out to be comforting or frightening, you cannot resist flipping the delicate pages with a hesitant hand – as if holding a centuries-old magical lamp, full of infinite possibilities – to find out for yourself.